By Yochanan Gordon
It is very easy to place responsibility and guilt on others’ shoulders. Yet one day we will be obligated to answer for our misdeeds and inactions, and that very same guilt which we shoved on our neighbors shoulders will be transferred to us. At that time, it will be unbearable. It is a natural human tendency to do away with annoyances, hoping they will never return. But, as they say, what goes around comes around.
The Gemara in Chagigah mentions a number of pesukim throughout Tanach which brought Rav Elazar to tears. One of those pesukim is when the Torah describes the scene when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers. His brothers had become estranged from him many years earlier, and their reaction-or, rather, their inability to react-teaches us a profound lesson.
The pasuk says, “And the brothers were not able to respond to him, for they were ashamed before him.” From this pasuk, Rav Elazar derives the severity of G-d’s rebuke of us after 120 years: “If this was the brothers’ reaction to Yosef, who was second in command in Egypt, how much more frightened will we be when we have to answer to our Master in Heaven!”
When Yosef was sold by his brothers, he was an annoyance to them. While Yaakov, his father, understood the origin of his dreams of royalty, he also understood that his other children were becoming fed up with his behavior, and he too chastised him to keep quiet, in an attempt to keep him out of trouble with his siblings.
But at a certain point, feeling that they would be better off without him around, his brothers threw him in a pit. They then dipped his cherished coat into blood to assure their old father that they had nothing to do with his demise, claiming instead that an undomesticated beast had devoured poor little Yosef alive.
At that point, after ridding themselves of their nuisance brother, they thought that he would become a fleeting memory of the past, never to return again. And so, 22 years later, when they stood face to face with that same brother-whose dreams by then had clearly materialized-they were shocked speechless. They realized that had they dealt with him responsibly, they would never have had to confront the situation they were now faced with. At that moment, that very same guilt that they shoved onto the shoulders of the “wild beast” was now back on their shoulders, but this time it was unbearable.
. . . . .
The unity among the Jewish people that has been evidenced in our attempts to champion the cause of our forlorn brother, Sholom Mordechai HaLevi ben Rivka Rubashkin, is truly inspiring. Jews from all walks of life and varying levels of observance are donating large sums of money and taking time out of their demanding schedules to recite Psalms and attend late-night prayer vigils on his behalf, as we would for our own blood relative.
We have proved in the past our ability to unite amidst tragedy. In fact, despite all of the negative publicity that we as a nation have been subjected to of late our one redeeming factor which has been noticed by even the goyim in a number of different instances is the way we come together on behalf of a fellow Jew despite having never met or heard of them before.
As we came to grips with the massacre in Yeshivas Mercaz HaRav as well as the sadistic slaying of six beautiful and holy Jews in a Chabad house in Mumbai, India, we displayed an inspiring sense of brotherhood and togetherness-erasing the proverbial gap that has divided us for so long.
But, time and again, we soon get comfortable, and those rifts present themselves again until the next tragedy arises in our midst.
Thinking about all the money donated towards Mr. Rubashkin’s defense, totaling in the hundreds of thousands and counting, as well as the many resolutions that people young and old the world over have accepted upon themselves as a merit for him and his family, you could scratch your head and wonder why I chose to write about this specifically at a time when we stand hand in hand.
As I write this on the second day of Sholom Rubashkin’s sentencing hearing, having heard a report from the judge that his fate would be ruled upon in the next three to four weeks, it became immediately clear to me that G-d is sending us a message.
While it is not uncommon for hearings of this sort to be drawn out or delayed for various reasons, it seems that the judge in this case has forever been searching for reasons to keep Sholom in jail pending the sentencing as well as to hand him a long, debilitating sentencing. I was enlightened by a comment on a website that reported this news. The commenter writes that the decision of the judge to delay the ruling three to four weeks was G-d’s way of saying, “Show me how long you are able to put yourself out for your fellow Jew!” G-d is closely watching, and He is waiting to see if we can keep this feeling of love and camaraderie among ourselves as we unite for the cause of Sholom Rubashkin, or if we will regress for a couple of weeks and pull together again only as the judge is ready to announce her decision.
It is clear to all that the treatment that Mr. Rubashkin has been subjected to and the outright denial of some of his most basic religious rights, right here in America, is supremely unjust. Many are saying that unless the situation takes a turn in a different direction and someone makes amends, this will go down in history as a black eye on the justice system in America.
But, as Jews, you and I both know that Sholom Rubashkin’s fate is not in the hands of Judge Linda Reade. While I was appalled by the obstinacy of the judge in refusing to grant Rubashkin pretrial bail, she is but a puppet in the hands of G-d. Her ruling reflects a decree in Heaven. If Sholom Rubashkin was denied bail time and again and was not allowed to join his family for the Pesach Seder, then we have collectively failed in our mission to bring him home.
The amount of support, both morally and monetarily, is documented and clear for all to see. What more can we do that we have not done that should keep this Divine decree intact? Perhaps G-d wants to see just how long we could unite for someone whose differences may divide us under normal circumstances.
Our Sages say that in our relationship to the world at large we are like keves echas bein shiv’im ze’evim. Sholom Rubashkin is now on the turf of the shiv’im ze’eivim of the world. Will we return to our Father with his coat dipped in blood and proclaim our innocence? Or are we prepared to sacrifice ourselves and unite, despite our differences, to bring an end to this personal tragedy as well as the collective tragedies that we suffer in our exile?
We could turn away this time as well and allow his fate to be sealed for better or for worse, as our memory of him fades and he sits alone in prison while his family (as Yaakov Avinu did) mourns over the loss of a husband and father whom they were so dependent on. But unlike the brothers who were forced to answer to Yosef whom they had sold into slavery, we are going to have to answer to G-d Al-mighty. Merely pointing to a bloodstained coat and pushing the onus of responsibility on the figurative chayah ra’ah is not going to work to prove our innocence in the eyes of G-d.
I am in no way making light of all the contributions and resolutions that have been pledged in support of Sholom Rubashkin. Many have parted with thousands of dollars toward his defense. Many families who have a hard time putting food on own their tables parted with a few dollars that they could have spent elsewhere. But in the scheme of things, sometimes in these situations it is easy to write a check and move on, feeling as if we have carried out our responsibility in the plight of a fellow Jew in need.
But having been down this road before, it seems that there is more that needs to be done to escape this situation unscathed. It seems that there is more expected of us by G-d to merit a favorable judgment and a happy ending. We are too used to acting righteous, as we do on Yom Kippur, before a G-d who judges our conduct at that particular time and place. My friends, this is not Yom Kippur and it’s not we who are standing trial.
When it comes to our brother, we have to be prepared to sacrifice ourselves and to unite even in a situation where we normally would opt not to. If we would just try to put ourselves in the shoes of Sholom Mordechai and his family, it suddenly will be that much easier to come together and effect true and lasting unity.
I believe that in view of everything that we have endured recently, it is the regular lack of true unity amongst us that has pinned our dear brother and his family up against the wall. These next three to four weeks will define the life of Sholom Rubashkin as well as all of our lives collectively. If we pull together now and remain close at heart and feel for one another, we will see Sholom Mordechai reunited with his family, as we and they rejoice along the roads of Jerusalem and greet our long-awaited King Mashiach-may we merit his coming speedily in our days.
Yochonon Gordon is a senior editor at The Five Towns Jwish Times.